The combination of widespread obesity concerns and rising "green" consciousness is driving a surge of interest in various types of health foods that has mainstream press scrambling to catch up.
"We have to do a lot of explaining to reporters on what is organic and what that means," says Barbara Haumann, Organic Trade Association press secretary. "There are plenty of 'eco' and other labels on products, but there are regulations for organic, so when a product says organic, we tell journalists it does mean something."
What may be surprising is that the increase in health-food coverage isn't only taking place on food pages. Some stories target readers who are more casual toward healthy eating. "Much of that coverage is aimed at 'foodies,' so even if you are pitching a healthy product, you have to wrap it in language that appeals to them," explains Stacie Krajchir, founder of LA-based The Bungalow PR.
However, health foods are gaining traction in unconventional media sections, such as the parenting and lifestyle newspaper pages, says Jen Beltz, principal with Portland, ME-based Front Burner PR, whose clients include the Good Clean Food line of all-natural simmer sauces.
"Coverage of things like the recent meat recall in California is really opening people's eyes and getting them to try healthy foods," she adds.
Health foods still face the lingering press bias that every nutritious food has to be bland and tasteless, so it's important to stress other aspects. "Editors do open up when you mention trends like obesity," says Krajchir, whose clients include Fortunuts and NUI Water, a product for children. "But I tell clients to have plenty of samples to send to editors," she adds, "because it wouldn't be fair to expect them to be interested in a product without tasting it."
With so many people interested in healthy eating, even fast-food restaurants now tout the benefits of more balanced offerings, which can make it hard for journalists to sort through healthy labels and claims. Gillian Christie, CEO of Santa Barbara, CA-based Christie Communication, says many reporters also want to hear the benefits of these products up front.
"You have to pitch the mainstream media with more information and you'd better be able to substantiate any claims with science," she says.
Despite its origins, health foods and organic products will likely gain mainstream coverage in the future, Haumann says. "This is not a fad," she adds. "It's here to stay and its growing, so there's... going to be more media coverage."
Pitching... health foods
There is still the perception that many health foods are bland and tasteless. The only way to combat that is with an aggressive sampling program with new product press releases
With many people, especially parents, looking to the Web for health information, make sure to broaden media outreach to include the growing number of influential health-food blogs
Besides the Food Network, there are also plenty of local and regional programs on radio that welcome health-food executives to talk about trends and products